By Diana Goovaerts

Sharing models could boost rural 5G

US Cellular CTO Michael Irizarry (pictured, centre) predicted an uptick in interest for network sharing schemes as operators look to supply 5G coverage in rural areas, though conceded it was unclear whether such arrangements would turn out to be workable.

During a panel on rural connectivity, Irizarry noted sharing models hadn’t been adopted in the US the way they have been in other countries such as Canada. However, he believes “that could change with 5G,” noting the economics of network sharing will be more appealing to operators facing the prospect of densification to meet the needs of short-range high-band spectrum.

Despite increased interest, he added it was unclear whether operators would be able to work through differences caused by the scale of their respective networks or quality requirements to make such arrangements a reality.

Spectrum sharing

Elsewhere in the session, Ian Smith, programme director of 5G Testbeds and Trials for the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, stressed the importance of sharing schemes to make rural coverage feasible.

“What it boils down to is money. Return on investment for network operators is far greater in densely populated areas in comparison to rural and remote areas. The business case just isn’t there.”

He noted in some rural areas where spectrum is unused the UK government is working with regulators to encourage spectrum sharing through a dynamic access model rather than an ownership model. Smith said the arrangement was designed to promote competition and encourage investment and innovation.

Smith added the government is in talks with operators to use a shared network model to expand 4G coverage from 92 per cent of the UK landmass to 95 per cent by 2022.

“Don’t build your own networks four different operators four times in the rural areas,” he said. “Come together and collaborate and share. Make your margins in the urban, collaborate in the rural”.